The 5 Lies SEO companies tell and how to not fall for them

SEO is an industry with unethical, unscrupulous, shady folks at every turn, and I hate what many of those people do to our industry, so I figured I'd post the following list of how SEO companies lie and how to not fall for those lies. So here goes: SEO Company lie #1 – Their Clients

STOP being lemmings!!! For you who select SEO companies to work with, please don't fall for the client list! It matters less than you think! Putting a client on your client list doesn't mean you did a real project for the company listed.

Being invited to speak at a company does NOT make them an SEO client, nor does doing a 5 hour engagement (in my opinion). If a company has impressive client roster, pick the references! Having worked for someone and having a GOOD relationship with them are two different things.

SEO Lie Repellant Tip - Choose your references

While any SEO company will have some references all ready for you, you should ask for at least a couple that YOU PICK from their client list.

The SEO company should say "NO PROBLEM" when it comes to connecting you to at least half of the client you requested, asking for more than 3 references is just weird though so don't ask for the whole client roster to be a reference. Keep in mind some clients just aren't into doing the reference thing sometimes and as a result SEO's may not be able to easily get them, that is why I say half is a good figure to shoot for.

One thing to expect is that a lot of SEO companies don't work direct with their clients, and often are private labeled, so they may not have direct connections with each client.

The agency that brought them in should easily be able to vouch for their work though. Some SEO companies private label, so you may see some big names that are brought to them by an agency, you should speak with the agency in these instances.

There will always be minor reasons why someone can't connect you with every requested reference, the bigger issue is how they react to being asked this question. Their gut reaction should be like “no problem”, if they gut reaction is "why" or "ummm, well, err, my contact left there" or some other excuse, be wary and do deeper digging before selecting them.

Again people, stop falling for the client list and big client names, get the details.

Even SEER has to clean up our list a bit, as a smaller search company that knows we can compete with the big boys, we fell into the trap of listing our most recognizable brands only, that will change with our impending re-launch.

SEO Company lie #2 – Their Staff

If you feel more comfortable with a certain size SEO company, that's fine. I am not here to change your mind, but to help you do a little due diligence and make sure they really have that many people. After seeing an SEO company totally rip off a prospect and just flat out lie about their staff of 25 people I was pissed and thought…

"how can I help people figure out how to catch these liars…I got one way…"

SEO Lie Repellant Tip - USE search engines!!

Of course there are always special relationships, virtual CFO / COO types work with multiple companies, billing people, exec assistants, etc. But when it comes to the core SEO/SEM team, you should be finding members of your SEO/SEM team on LinkedIn, Digg,, Zoominfo, Sphinn, etc. Hint: search for the company name in addition to the individual's name, also search for the persons name as one word too, see what I find when I search for dannysullivan vs. Danny Sullivan again, if someone uses their real name, run the search on that too.

Now of course many will have aliases (sugarrae, greywolf, oilman) so they won't be easy to find, and to be honest you don't really need to. I have another way if the search engines come up a bit lame.

Use Linkedin (most business people are here) Here's my quick check, a few of ANYONE's search team should be on LinkedIn, if a company says they have a search team of 10 people it is not crazy to think that by typing in the name of the company in LinkedIn and see 4 or 5 of them, right?

Go search for the company name, what comes back?

I think small good companies have no problem saying, “We're small, and we're GOOD”. If what makes a company good is their size then they've got problems, and now you do too!

SEO Company lie #3 – I know (insert celebrity here) Matt Cutts, Rand Fishkin, Danny Sullivan, Aaron Wall, Neil Patel, Todd Malicoat, Greywolf, etc… knowing them and THEM KNOWING YOU are TWO different things.

Accepting someone on LinkedIn doesn't mean you are friends!

Sure this adds credibility, but come on people, when someone says they know someone, I would expect that to be a reciprocal relationship. These SEO celebrities probably get 1000+ cards a year from a ton of people and may even have e-mailed some, chatted a bit, but that doesn't a relationship make.

SEO Lie Repellant Tip – This doesn't matter!!

To be honest, knowing these guys shouldn't really mean much for you as a purchaser of SEO services. Why would your SEO team need to know Matt Cutts? I'd like to think that Matt has heard of me or seen my SEO videos - A guy can dream right?

If for some reason who an SEO knows means something to your in your selection process, you are focusing on the wrong things!

LEE Odden did a great piece on the Fallacy of the SEO celebrity.

SEO Company lie #4 – We do social media

Because social media is hot right now, I think everyone says they do linkbaiting / social media, which is fine, we all gotta start somewhere. But here's how you can decipher one from the next: (Tamar, thanks for the help on this one & please never go back to full time server admin work, LOL!)

Ask your social media strategist for their URLs on:

• Facebook • Youtube • Digg • Del.ic.ous • Stumbleupon • LinkedIn • Twitter (which I hate but recently fell victim to)

If they have accounts for most of these consider them a beginner that has at least done the basics (which is OK, this is a new area and you shouldn't expect them to have 3-4 years experience in this area).

The question is do they actually have activity and friends and are adding to these profiles with plugins, groups, etc? You really have to be active on these communities to understand the nuances of how they work. Each one is slightly different.

Mid level social media folks should be very active on many of these above, not all but many. Additionally, some of these would be a waste for marketing, but at least a mid level person is involved enough in the community to stay on top of marketing opportunities if they exist.

The top folks at least know of these & what kind of content plays best on these: • Sk-rt • Hugg • Mixx • Reddit • Yahoo Answers • Ballhype

Be careful here, the key is ACTIVITY not just an account. If they were not active recently, maybe it is because they have not found a lot of value there, but at some point there should have been some serious activity.

And yes, the key is activity, but if you'd want to emphasize anything, don't spread yourself too thin (by using all these services). Do a little and get good at one or two social media sites.

SEO Company lie #5 - We can guarantee XXXXX or we'll get you XXXX links per month sales pitches

If the guarantee is for keywords, or #1 rankings, or page 1 rankings, NONE can be guaranteed! This is the easiest issue of the 5, but after having been asked in a room of hundreds of people about the effectiveness of a 20 THOUSAND keywords meta tag at a recent affiliate summit, I think basics are still important and worth discussing.

Ok, here's a simple rule…if you got cold called, DO NOT work with that company. Sure some of you may have exceptions, but this is simple, no cold calls, no marketing e-mails!

No company can guarantee an actual ranking, or an actual number of terms on page one. If you do have a company that gives you a guarantee, ask them if you can select the terms that count, make sure all are two the word phrases and watch them squirm! The issue with guaranteeing page ones is that the SEO company is likely to include some softballs in there to make sure they hit their “guarantee”.

Any company that tells you how many links they expect to get you monthly is the wrong company to work with. Do you really care that they get you 3, 30, or 300 links per month? NO you shouldn't, it should be about maximizing rankings to maximize leads / sales for keywords that are applicable to your business.

Links are a byproduct, not to mention, getting 3 good strong hard to get links could be worth 10x more than 30 or 300 in terms of how they help you rank.

Disclaimer: We do have a guarantee though ;)

It is simple. We feel that if by 6 months we don't have a certain percentage of terms on the first 2 pages of Google / Yahoo / MSN and the client account is in good standing, then we pause payment until we do. We do this because we just don't feel right taking people's money if for some reason 6 months in we are not performing.

Don't fall for other SEO Lies, if you have more please let me know, I plan on developing am ongoing checklist of things to look for when selecting an SEO firm and obviously I am missing a bunch!

We love helping marketers like you.

Sign up for our newsletter to receive updates and more:

Wil Reynolds
Wil Reynolds
CEO & Vice President